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Chester Zoo freezes tissue samples from the world's rarest animals to save them from extinction

Conservationists at Chester Zoo have begun freezing tissue samples of the world’s rarest animals, in the battle to save hundreds of species from extinction.

DNA from the highly-threatened jaguar has been stored in the Natur'e Safe frozen biobank
DNA from the highly-threatened jaguar has been stored in the Natur'e Safe frozen biobank

The zoo’s scientists have teamed up with some of the UK’s leading animal reproduction experts to found Nature’s Safe one of Europe’s largest living biobanks, based in Whitchurch.

The biobank is dedicated to preserving and regenerating cells of the planet's most vulnerable species, preserving tissue samples from ovaries, testicles and ears of animals that have passed away at the zoo.

Using state-of-the-art technology the small tissue samples are then cryogenically frozen at temperatures of -196°C using liquid nitrogen.

Biological samples from the critically endangered eastern black rhino have been stored at Nature's Safe

Dr Sue Walker, head of science at Chester Zoo and co-founder of Nature’s Safe, said: “With gene pools and animal populations continually shrinking in the wild, the work of modern conservation zoos like ours has never been more important.

"Technologies, such as cryopreservation, offers us a new, critical piece of the conservation puzzle and helps us provide a safeguard for many of the world’s animals that, right now, we’re sadly on track to lose.”

Thanks to dozens of contributions from Chester Zoo, the frozen living biobank has successfully cryopreserved multiple cell types from more than 100 highly threatened animal species.

These species include the critically endangered eastern black rhino, mountain chicken frog, Javan green magpie and the jaguar.

Frozen biosamples have been stored from the mountain chicken frogs to protect them against extinction

In the future it is hoped that, as reproductive technologies advance, the frozen tissue samples may be used to further conserve species globally.

By generating sperm and egg,s this will hopefully enable conservationists to restore lost genetic diversity in animal species threatened with extinction.

Tullis Matson, chair and co-founder of Nature’s Safe added: “Without Nature’s Safe, for many species already so near the brink of extinction, there will be no return.

"With Nature’s Safe and other biobanking partners – there is optimism. We know the sixth mass extinction on Earth is underway, and there will be rough times ahead.

"The question is what do we want to do about it? And our answer is: we want to secure future options for biodiversity, by acting now.”

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